These Karts Really Go!
J. C. Tilton
Is your image of a go-cart a lawn mower engine mounted on a tubular steel frame? Something that you would use to putt putt down the driveway and maybe throw a little gravel? Well I wasn't too sure what to expect when I visited G&J Kartway in Camden over the 4th of July weekend. Actually I live just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the track, but had never stopped in to watch a race. I did observe that on certain weekends the place was full of RV's and trailers. So there must be something interesting happening - it was time to stop in and see what all the fuss was about.
I first visited pit row where all the racers had their trailers and karts parked. I was surprised at the number of participants. One official estimated that there were easily 300 to 400 drivers. There were license plates from all over, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan, etc. I ran into one team from Bowling Green, Ohio. Grandfather Joe McGee was there acting as pit boss for his grandson Cody Lein. He took a few minutes off from their race prep to speak about Kart racing. Lein has been racing since the age of 4 and is a veteran at the age of 8. They race both indoors and outdoors, although they take time off, for this family it is practically a year around hobby. It is not cheap, a beginner can get a used frame and engine for two to three thousand dollars. McGee stated that they had over 4 thousand in their Kart. Safety is a big part of WKA (World Kart Association) racing. The drivers have a helmet, protective vest, neck brace, and a fire retardant suit. The frames are designed with a wide wheel base to prevent flip overs. Their engine was an 8 hp Briggs and Stratton engine. On a flat straightaway McGee stated that their Kart could do 50 mph. There were 9 age groups for WKA and they kept track of points much like Winston cup, OK Nextel cup, racing. The winner was decided at the end of season based upon their points.
I was fortunate to find last years points winner and this season's points leader, Ryan Cassidy, from Illinois. He has a cousin, Justin Cassidy, from Maryland who races in a younger age division and won last year too. So their family has had success in the WKA. Ryan related that his father had raced in the 60's. He had dug up the old racer in the garage and got it running. The first year, they raced with a 1963 frame and engine! They got the racing bug and invested into modern engines and frames. They gradually got better and now they are very succesful and are well known in Kart racing circles and there have been several magazine articles written about the two cousins. He now races in about 15 races per year. At one time they bought old Brigs and Stratton engines and refurbished them into racing engines. Now Briggs and Stratton has an actual racing divison and they provide 'stock' racing engines for use in Karts. Ryan had a crew member show how they shaved off the outer layer of soft rubber from the tires. This was done to remove the outer layer which had dirt and debris embedded in it. Next was a look at the cockpit. It was very sparse. There is a steering wheel, a brake and a gas pedal. The machine has a centrifugal clutch on the engine so no need for a clutch pedal. That is about the only thing in common that his machine had with a go cart.
Besides the WKA Gold Cup race, G&J Kartway hosts several OVKA (Ohio Valley Karting Association) races. The OVKA is regional, so you don't have to travel cross country to participate. It's still expensive get started, but for folks that have a need for speed this is a way that both youngsters and even adults can participate in racing. Comments or more information: email: Chris Tilton